Theories Of Delinquent Behavior |

Theories of Delinquent Behavior

Theories of Delinquent Behavior
Theories of Delinquent Behavior
Strain Theory
Robert Merton’s strain theory examines delinquency form a sociological and
criminology perspective. This theory is built on the initial works of Emile Durkheim, who is
taken to be among the initiators of sociological studies. According to Merton’s theory,
delinquency is an outcome of social pressure, where people are expected to attain certain
levels of life even when they lack the required resources for such achievements (Cullen,
Wright, & Blevins, 2017). This theory is relevant to juvenile delinquency as the society has
placed particular expectations of children including educational achievement and
socioeconomic outlook without consideration for the child’s means to attain such goals.
Notably, juveniles are in the initial stages of personality development which makes them
highly responsive to social pressure; delinquency comes in as a self-protection mechanism for
those that fail to attain the expectations of the society.
Differential Association Theory
The theory of differential association was brought forth by Edwin Sutherland.
Sutherland argues that social interactions transfer the attitudes, motives, and techniques for
criminal behavior (Gottfredson, 2017). The theory is based on Sutherland’s understanding of
“self” where he observes that a person’s self-image progressively develops through learning
in their social contact. In juvenile delinquency, differential association may be understood
from the interactions with criminal or environments where criminality is encouraged.
Children learn deviance from their peer groups, friends, or family behavior. While the social
learning phenomenon is active at all stages of life, there is greater susceptibility in children as
their belief and value systems are not well-developed.
Drift Theory
David Matza and Gresham Sykes advanced the theory of drift or neutralization. The
theory is developed from the premise that juveniles are bound by the law by providing moral
obligation. In the absence of this bond, individuals are more likely to drift into and away from
delinquent behavior (Cullen, Wright, & Blevins, 2017); delinquency is as a result of juveniles
learning how to neutralize the social code of behavior which allows them to shift from
acceptable to criminal behavior. In this view, the bond with the values and attitudes of the
society is never permanently broken. The drift theory considers it normal for a juvenile to
occasionally drift into deviant behavior which is most visible through denial of responsibility,
loyalty to higher powers, and blaming the condemners of deviance.
Cullen, F. T., Wright, J. P., & Blevins, K. R. (2017). Taking Stock: The Status of
Criminological Theory. London: Routledge.
Gottfredson, M. (2017). Control Theories of Crime and Delinquency. London: Taylor and

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